I love the classic movie “My Cousin Vinny”. It makes us laugh and makes us wonder if there is anything we can take away from this movie about the courtroom. As an attorney, watching the movie makes me understand some things that are critically important but hard to grasp until you see it in action in court.
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Vinny Commands the Courtroom
One thing for sure is Vinny’s command of the courtroom when he is cross-examining witnesses. We have all heard that it is best to have the witness answer with short yes and no answer. Vinny, in his cross-examination of an elderly woman who wears thick glasses, uses the entire courtroom which keeps everyone’s attention. He asked the witness to hold onto the end of a measuring tape and holding the other end, he walked to the end of the courtroom. He asked her to tell him when to stop when he was about the same distance away as she was when she witnessed the incident in question. When she tells him to stop, she is testifying to what she witnessed.
Standing at the edge of the courtroom with the tape measure between him and the witnesses, taking up a large amount of space and keeping everyone’s attention he simply asks her, “How many fingers am I holding up?” What happened next is powerful…The witness could not see.
This was a wonderful demonstration of the witness’s inability to see what she thought she saw. Vinny’s courtroom demonstration was a great example of how to get things into evidence and persuading a judge through the use of demonstrations and simple tools.
Vinny Knows How To Make a Point
There was another eyewitness who was making grits when he said he witnessed the incident. When he was on the witness and testifying about it, again Vinny did it right. He talked to the witness about the grits, how long it takes to make grits, how he likes his grits, etc. Once the witness committed to his answers about making grits, Vinny points out the time discrepancy. The witness testified that it takes him five minutes to make his grits. Vinny then used a bit of humor and/or sarcasm to get his point across by saying:
“Were these magic grits?”
“Did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?”
“Do the laws of physics somehow cease to operate in your kitchen?”
Again, Vinny has captured the attention of the Judge and is making a point in a very clever way.
Professional Courtroom Attire
It is unforgettable how Judge Chamberlain (played by Fred Gwynne – also known as “Herman Munster”) gave Vinny such a hard time for his courtroom attire. Vinny was very proud of his purchase from the local resale shop of his big belt buckle and cowboy hat. No doubt, it is important to dress professionally in court and most obviously wear a suit or similar professional attire for women.
Confidence Leads to Courtroom Success
Vinny showed us that having confidence in your abilities leads to courtroom success. Effective litigators have to be confident and strong in their position. They have to be able to command a courtroom and make use of creative ways to get to what you want a witness to say or demonstrate in court.